2009-09-19: Fire Cooking


Propane is expensive and heavy.  Therefore, most of the islanders cook with
wood or kerosene.  Cooking with kerosene
indoors is kinda like leaving your car running inside a closed garage.  Also, the stove is a $60 investment along
with the fuel, which is cheaper than gas but sometimes unavailable in the local
stores.  So we have chosen the gas route.

 

We have already run out of gas once due to Kelly’s cooking
exploits.  She is the village baker
pumping out pies and cookies for every villager walking by!  I sometimes don’t know whom this person is
sweating over a large pot, mixing this and that, and beating flour.  I don’t complain, though, as she is very good
and it makes our neighbors happy.  We
often have children stopping by asking for cookies. 

 

I’ve suggested we move to wood baking as this would be the
most proper and effective integration technique, but Kelly quickly gives me the
‘go jump in the lake, or in our case ocean’ look.  I really don’t blame her after my
test-cooking day with a wood-burning stove.

 

It all started when our neighbor showed us how to cook fish
between two rocks.  That inspired me to
find my own twin cooking boulders, which wasn’t hard to do around our
house.  I quickly spotted two ideal
candidates, snipped some left over hurricane mesh from the windows, and formed
a rough fire pit.  An old rusty folding
chair provided a nice wind stop for the back of the pit. 

 

I found some dry wood, empty coconut shell, and the dried
foliage from coconut trunks.  The fire
started steady but soon petered out.  I
decided to try plan B and filled up an empty tin can with a kerosene/coconut
oil mixture.  This was awesome and
quickly turned my fire pit into an inferno of cooking bliss.  Soon my pot of kumala, sweet potatoes, was
boiling steady.  My pot had also turned
from a nice aluminum mat finish to charcoal black. 

 

Even though the fire pit is behind our house, it still
attracted much attention from passers by. 
The first was our neighbor’s daughter who approached gingerly not sure
what this crazy pulangi was doing crouched between two rocks stoking a pit
fire.  Once she saw the pot it was clear
I was attempting something productive and thus safe to approach.  She asked if she could use my fire to start
her own at her umu, eating hut with wood burning grille.  I kindly obliged and she showed me the best
part of the coconut tree to start fires with. 
She also suggested I put a tin roof over my fire apparatus.

 

The next visitor was Levi who was also very curious as to my
activities.  Once he saw my intent he
also suggested a tin roof.  I nodded
cordially and then he proceeded to ask how to fill out a visa application for
his son.  After we navigated the form a
bit and I showed him the answer to his question.

 

The next visitor was Tealiki, Vovo’s wife.  She lives two houses down and always has a
smile on her face.  She asked what I was
doing and I explained my attempts at creating food on an open fire.  She laughed, said I needed a tin roof, then
rambled off, and brought me some real firewood. 
This wood was a dark almond color and much superior to the wood I had
been using.  After introducing a few
pieces to my humble flames it roared to life and almost became a legitimate
village cooking fire.  She also gave me a
scrap of cardboard for fanning the flames. 
This simple device worked miracles and I felt like an idiot for not
trying it before.  The whole experience
of cooking over a simple open fire was very humbling for a palagi with two
degrees. 

 

After thanking her profusely for her tips she asked if I
liked breadfruit.  Only having it once
before I thought back making sure it wasn’t in the same family as eggplant, and
then remembered it wasn’t and quite tasty too! 
We proceeded to the nearest tree and picked out a ripe victim high
up.  She fetched her bamboo pole and
started poking at the fruit.  I asked if
I could give it a try and we danced around the tree poking at a softball size
fruit.  Finally, I struck pay dirt and
the little booger fell.  We gathered the
harvest and I followed her to her umu where she showed me how to slice it up
for frying.

 

I brought my prize home to Kelly like a boy showing his
father his first fish.  She was busy
preparing the pumpkin I had harvested for her earlier in the day.  I quickly showed her how to prepare the fruit
and headed back to check the fire. 
Thankfully it was still active and the kumala where almost done.  The fire pit is adjacent to our sewer pipe,
which makes a pretty comfy seat, although if it gets out of hand we could have
quite a mess on our hands!  As I sat on
the pooper pipe, gazing at the fire, and then across the bay at the setting
sun, I felt a deep connection with the people of the island and realized the
joy of preparing food from the earth with only natural tools (other than the
$18 pot from MH). 

 

Even though the fire pit was fun, I smelled like smoke for
three days and we ended up only eating two of the four kumala’s because we have
no refrigerator and day old kumala just doesn’t sound very good.  I guess if I had a family of 8 and a dalo
patch in my back yard it would make sense. 
But for quick meals, the fire isn’t easy.  Once again, my respect for the villagers
increases as my appreciation for the simple things in life, like a gas stove,
grows.

One comment on “2009-09-19: Fire Cooking

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